It’s been seven years since our father, Alhaji Isma’il Babatunde Jose, left this sinful world. His legacies shall continue to be with those of us he left behind. The greatest thing he would be remembered for was his life of compassion. From his lowly beginning and his meteoric rise to the doyen of modern Nigerian journalism and as a religious leader, his life was always strewn with compassion for all he came across. Born into the Jose family, lately of Ojubanire Lane, Agarawu Street, of old Lagos, Baba, as we fondly called him, lost his mother on June 12, 1932, when he was just a primary school pupil of Lagos Municipal Primary School, Oke-Suna. At that time, he was enrolled as Sunmola, the Yoruba version of Isma’il. He however had other “mothers” who took very good care of him and showered him with love and affection. It is possible that his later life of compassion to others took roots from this infant period. To all those “mothers”, we pray that Allah grant them Aljanna Fridous.
Baba later attended Yaba Methodist Primary School, where he was enrolled in 1933 as Ishmael; another version of his name. He later attended Saviours Boys High School, where he could not further his secondary school education due to the downturn in his father’s fortunes as a result of the Second World War. He asked his father “not to strain himself further and let him learn a trade.” Thereafter, he was apprenticed to the Daily Times as a technical trainee and from there he veered into news reporting and journalism. The Grace of God and good fortune smiled on him and he was discovered and mentored by the white Chairman of the Daily Times and the rest, as they, is history. He rose to become the first Nigerian managing director of the company and also chairman/managing director of the first publicly quoted company in Nigeria. He became a confidant of heads of state and government and “walked in the corridors of power”;he was also head of the foremost Islamic religious organisation in Nigeria and thereby “walked in the corridors of heaven”.
In 2001, President Olusegun Obasanjo proclaim him a National Role Model and an Icon of Hope at the National Independence celebration in Abuja. In all these, he refused to be carried away by the flight of success in life which he regarded as transient. If at all, he was humbled by these successes in life. He lived a contented and frugal life and was not given to ostentation. He feared God and believed in the inevitability of death; hence, he had a bag packed with his burial shroud in his room. At 60, he claimed he had got his ticket and boarding pass to heaven and was only waiting for the boarding announcement; he waited for 22 years before his flight was eventually announced. Therefore, he lived every day as if it were the last.
Baba was steadfast in his commitment to his God and it increased his compassion for his fellow men. He took care of both immediate end extended families. As a mark of this, he always had a full house because he found space for the children of his immediate and extended families to live with him, including the children of his out-of-town friends; just like his own father did before him. Even at work, he had his adopted sons and daughters whom he groomed and mentored and whose success he followed till his last breath. He was a just and fair man. His belief in the goodness of his fellow man made him become over-trusting to a fault. His kindness and ready to forgive spirit led him to forgive his traducers after the enquiry into the Daily Times exonerated him; even to the point of helping to settle family quarrel for one of his traducers.
“The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves.
Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.
It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity.” Karen Armstrong
As a mark of his compassion, he was known to visit people when they were bereaved or afflicted with illness. I cannot count the number of times, he had asked us to make a detour from our planned journeys because he wanted to visit someone who lived in a remote village or town out of our way. He kept a list of people whom he never forgot to send birthday greetings each year till he fell gravely ill. For some, such cards were accompanied with a cash gift, especially the old and his grandchildren.
One hallmark of his life was in seeking forgiveness of Allah and as a corollary of this, he first sought the forgiveness of man. He would always seek to atone for his transgression against man and God, and this led him on many occasions to seek out those whom he felt he had wronged to ask for their forgiveness. We once went to Itire for a ceremony and he decided to visit the house of his old driver who lived nearby. When we got there, he asked the driver, who incidentally was a Quranic scholar, to say a small prayer for us. After that, he asked the driver to forgive him for an incident that occurred on an occasion they were travelling together. The driver could not recollect and Baba had to remind him. Even the old driver was flabbergasted. That was the extent to which Baba would go in order to have a clean slate. On another occasion during his illness, he asked our cousin to specifically go to his father in-law who was an elder in the same religious movement he belonged to, to name whatever he might have done to wrong him in the course of their relationship and forgive him. He even asked the old man to grant him an audience so he could come to apologise personally. The old man told my cousin that Baba should harbour no fear as he had nothing against him. The old man later visited Baba to allay his fears. Incidentally, Baba named the old man in his last wishes to give a graveside oration whenever he died. He died, but the old man was out of the country.
For a man who walked with a constant fear of God in him, it was therefore very sad that in the end, he was visited with trial and tribulation of a Jobian proportion. His illness was so bad that sometimes one was inclined to believe that it was due to the wrath of God for his sins and iniquities; but Baba was a righteous man who “kept the Sabbath holy”. We took consolation in the fact that Allah always tries those he loved. The Quran and holy books are full of stories of prophets and men of God who were afflicted with worse tribulations. After 30 days of fasting in the month of Ramadan, the Holy Prophet was dressed for ‘Eid Fitr, when his son suddenly died. Equally, Prophet Muhammad did not survive his illness too. Towards the end of his life, he could not even lead the prayer as he was too weak to do so. Prophet Ayyub (Job) suffered the worst tribulations of any “man of God”. All his possessions, animate and inanimate, were wiped out, while his body was afflicted by an illness unknown in his time. His friends and his wife implored him to deny God, but Job never railed against the Almighty. In the end, God not only restored his health but also his wealth.
The same could be said of Baba Jose.